Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The life of the English Romantic poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, has proved an endlessly fascinating subject for writers. Romulus Linney’s Childe Byron does deliver a dramatic condensation of Byron’s history, but by focusing on Byron’s daughter and her demands that he justify his life to her, the play gives the familiar story a somewhat different twist and allows an investigation of the relationship between the artist and society. How much does an artist owe to his public? What can a public reasonably expect from an artist beyond his work? What are the boundaries between the work and the life? What are the emotional and artistic costs of fame? These are the central questions that Linney dramatizes in his telescoped life of the poet, and since Byron was in many ways the first modern literary celebrity, his life can be seen as a cautionary tale about what happens when a man’s personality becomes more important in the public mind than his work.

The play renders Byron’s life in all of its technicolor excess—literary, sexual, alcoholic, athletic—yet his more serious dilemma emerges clearly enough in spite of all the flamboyance. He is troubled by the sense of obligation he has toward the public that has made him famous. Fame brings amusing distractions, but they are distractions still. At the end of act 1, importuned on all sides by admirers who offer him their wine, their dinners, their beds, Byron fights free from their insatiable...

(The entire section is 583 words.)